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2013-06-05 at 17:00

Young Sikh soccer player hopes to be allowed back on a real field

The Canadian Press
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MONTREAL - Aneel Samra took up the Quebec Soccer Federation on its suggestion that he play in his own backyard.

It was a little awkward.

His Montreal-area yard is a shade over a dozen square metres. It's mostly made of stone, except for where it's bordered by a flower bed.

A balcony that juts out is also an obstacle.

The turban-wearing teen says he remains hopeful there might be a resolution on a dispute that has made international news in recent days.

Samra is one of an estimated 100 to 200 Sikh soccer players — many of them young — who have been forbidden from playing by the provincial federation.

The head of the asssociation, asked during a news conference what she would tell a child who wanted to play soccer, replied that she'd tell him to play in his own yard.

The 18-year-old Samra says he's perplexed by the decision to uphold a year-old ban on Sikh turbans, patkas and keskis, without any evidence they pose a safety risk.

He says comments he hears, that Sikhs can simply remove their headgear while on the pitch, demonstrates a lack of understanding of his religious beliefs.

Devout Sikhs keep their head covered at all times and, given their long hair, Samra says it would be an even bigger safety risk to force all Sikhs to play without one.

Samra played only sparingly in a house league in 2012, thanks to a referee's discretion. But he didn't bother to sign up this year after learning referees were told to uphold the rule or face sanctions.

Samra says he got a supportive phone call from federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

He says Trudeau called his father this morning to discuss the issue. The family are Liberal party supporters. Samra says he's also buoyed by the federal government response.

Major federal parties have expressed frustration with the ban, to varying degrees. Provincial parties have been less vocal on the issue.

"Now that it has come up in Parliament and many officials have made comments about it, I'm pretty sure it will change soon," Samra said.

The Canadian Press
© The Canadian Press, 2014

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